Text: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145; Romans 7:21-8:6; Matthew 11:25-30
As we focus on July the Fourth our American Independence Day, it would behoove us to consider what Freedom is from a biblical as well as American perspective. For all my friends outside the USA, this is somewhat a regional message but has a universal application. In America, this is one holiday, the three-day weekend that people have not attempted to move to a Monday. I believe that this has been because the date itself is such a powerful icon: the anniversary of our nation’s birth with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on a sultry Philadelphia summer day:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all “men” are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Those powerful words were words of no return. Those ideals launched a nation into an unknown future and charted its course. Those are powerful words that many of us memorized in grade school and have spent the rest of our lives trying to live up to. Those are powerful words that frame the very essence of what it is to be an American. They are words worth celebrating on the anniversary of their signing. The anniversary of our freedom as a Republic is important but pales in comparison to our freedom in Jesus through the new birth!
The signing of the Declaration of Independence was deemed by many to be the Death Warrant for the Anglican Church, the Church of England, at least in “the colonies.” It was an open door to a new freedom of the pursuit of personal faith. Most of the citizens of this new republic saw it as freedom not only governmentally but religiously.
As a nation, the freedom we enjoy was bought for us by those who went before: our founding fathers and mothers who had the courage and vision to imagine a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
They made the down payment — in blood sweat and tears — and subsequent generations have made “balloon payments” ever since: claiming and reclaiming that vision of a nation with liberty and justice for all. We all need to remember that none of us are free unless all of us are free. The birthing of a nation began in 1776 and continues today!
Likewise, our spiritual freedom — our salvation — was bought for us by the generations who have gone before. Abraham and Sarah and their faithfulness to their covenant with Yahweh; the Hebrew people who received God’s law through Moses and were called again and again into faithfulness by the prophets; and Jesus, our Lord, and Savior, who paid the ultimate price of his life upon the cross that we might live. Freedom is never free or cheap, our spiritual freedom cost the Blood of Jesus!
Jesus paid the once-and-for-all price that we are called to claim and re-claim as we proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus in our generation. Going to all the world and proclaiming this Good News is the price we are asked to pay, and how we pay cries out our value of freedom and our love for our fellowman. It has everything to do with how “free” we are! There is amazing freedom in calling others to Christ not because we have to in order to “earn” our salvation, but because we can do nothing less in response to the amazing gift of God’s love.
As we celebrate freedom this Independence Day, both as Americans and as Christians, Paul’s experience offers parallels to our own, as a church and as a culture. For as much as we desire to do good, we far too often fall short of the mark: and wonder what went wrong.
As Christians, again and again, our ability to proclaim the Gospel is hampered by internal squabbles and quarrels about power that masquerade as debates over doctrine; fights with each other that so consume our energy we have nothing lift to give to the work of calling others to Christ.
As a country, over and over our efforts to ensure the freedom of one people seem to lead to the oppression of another. It seems that no matter how hard we work to “do good,” some evil fallout is the result. And here at home, as hard as we try to make the Pledge of Allegiance come true, we have yet to truly ensure liberty and justice for all. Where do we turn for answers?
Let us turn again to Paul’s words as contained in The Message:
“I have tried everything, and nothing helps. I am at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”
Where do we turn for answers? The same place Paul did. We turn to Jesus Christ. He can and does offer hope! He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” he said and says, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Those are words of promise and freedom that reveal that there is nothing we have to bear by ourselves: nothing too heavy for Jesus to bear with us. An invitation of profound reassurance, whether in the poetic language of the traditional translation or the accessible words of the paraphrase:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you will recover your life. I will show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I will not lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you will learn to live lightly and freely.”
“Come to me.” Jesus’ words in verse twenty-eight remind us of the words on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
The difference is, Freedom is not found in a place but a Person! True Freedom is found in the One who guides us, strengthens us, feeds us, and sustains us. We have a mission and a commission to bring this message of True Freedom to the World. We have the message of Hope that Freedom cries out to bring. We can be “born again” and in that state be the Body of Christ to the World and demonstrate Freedom!
Happy Birthday, America, may we always be Free and seek Freedom for Everyone! God bless you as you enjoy this day of celebration!